Is Waiting Tables Really That Hard?

Yes, hello! I’m here to stir-up some trouble. Well, that’s not exactly my intention but I may offend someone in the next 1,000 or so words. Sorry, if I do!

In high school, I worked in a restaurant for about 4 years. I started off busing tables and washing dishes. Eventually I was asked to cut up some vegetables when the cooks were in a hurry. That turned into becoming a full-time cook. We hired someone new to wash the dishes.

I spent most weekends at the restaurant. I like to think I’ve seen a good bit of how a restaurant works.

But I have never waited tables in my life. I’ve been around the action, taken a few quick orders, waited at some college events for charity, but I’ve never had that as my job title. So PLEASE help me all you waiters/ex-waiters out there… I have a question for you.

And yes, I’m using the word ‘waiters’ because waitress sounds sexist to me. Not sure if it is but I’ll play it safe. 🙂

Is waiting tables really that hard?

There’s a reason they call it ‘waiting,’ right? Doesn’t seem that hard to me.

This question has been floating around my head for years. I still have yet to figure it out. Perhaps I should shadow a busy waiter or apply at Applebee’s and figure it out myself. But why do that when I have access to some of the wisest brains on the interwebz! I’m talking about you! Yes, you. PLEASE help me understand what I’m missing.

Hi, my name is Will. I’ve been an ignorant foodie for 24 years.

Also, I did a little homework beforehand to prove I’m serious about sampling some new perspectives:

3 Reasons You Need to Respect Your Waitress

Waitresses Deserve Respect, And Tips

Waitresses Deserve Better Wages – and R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Gratitude Included: Why I Love Being a Waitress

Judy Greer: ‘A mandatory year of waiting tables’ will make you a better person

Waiting Tables Is More Than You Think It Is

Here are my views on waiting tables:

Restaurant Perspective on Waiting Tables

I cooked a lot of food at the local restaurant. It was a lot of hard, hot work. We came in before any customers and we definitely left after they did. Waiters would come in only when there were customers. The cooks had to MAKE THE DANG FOOD and the waiters job is to walk it to a table. I know some customers can be jerks but that comes will all customer service roles. Right now I’m a bank analyst who has to deal with snarky bankers on a daily basis. I don’t complain though because it’s just part of the job. So I don’t think ‘putting up with rude customers’ is a reason to get paid more. It’s hit or miss in any customer/client-oriented role.

So after working at a restaurant for 4 years, I guess I didn’t gain a ton of respect for the trade of being a waiter..

Dining perspective on waiting tables

After seated, we are handed menus. Then we give our drink orders – I almost always order water with no ice. We peruse the menu, sometimes asking a question or 2. We order. The food comes out – thank you, cooks for preparing the lovely meal. (A customer once came back to the kitchen and tipped me because they enjoyed their steak – freaking MADE MY YEAR. Anyway, then the waiter refills our drinks. Smiles and butters us up for a good tip. We finish. The plates are cleared away. We pay 15-20% the worth of the meal. Done. I’ve paid tips before that are more than I make per hour as an analyst – a VERY skilled job!

So what in the world am I missing? I hate spending so much money tipping waiters for a service that doesn’t seem to require much effort.

This post is a follow-up to my post on First Quarter Finance last week. Here’s an excerpt showing my ignorance or frustration:

I’m not against tipping well but I’m a pretty easy customer. Having a waiter sit down a few plates and refill my glass of water once means my tip of $16 for the meal last night was a pretty darn good hourly rate. Last night, the waiter interacted with our table for about 3 minutes total. If a person works even 4 hours a day at 5 days per week making that rate, they would earn $332,800 pre-tax income in one year. And a lot of tips don’t get reported properly to the IRS.

As a disclaimer, I still tip 15-20% even though I honestly don’t understand why. I guess I don’t want an icky feeling in my stomach by not doing what’s socially acceptable. Really, playing follow-the-leader in society is a really stupid thing to do though. Also, I assume the waiter will fund his/her education or save up for a house or do something admirable like that.

Call me ignorant (I am!) or whatever else. It’s appropriate right now! It’s why I’m seeking help.

It’s Labor Day weekend. People dine out a lot when traveling. What do you tip and why?

Please comment even if you’re reading this after the weekend! I’m probably the only person right now blogging instead of boating. 🙂



Will, hailing from the interwebz settlement called First Quarter Finance


Image courtesy of Christina Campisi

7 thoughts on “Is Waiting Tables Really That Hard?”

  1. I’m blogging and working today instead of boating, too! Booooo. Anyway, I waited tables a few times when I worked in Alaska and it was very clear to me that I was not cut out for the job. You’re juggling many tables at once, trying to please so many people- not only the customers, but also your coworkers in the kitchen and behind the bar. I do think you need to have the right personality to be a good server in a busy place. I much preferred tending bar or playing hostess to being a server.

    • *virtual high-five for blogging on a holiday weekend!*

      I imagine tending bar would be pretty crazy sometimes! I just made a smoothie. I had to follow the instructions carefully. There were 4 ingredients. Oh!

  2. I wrote about this a year ago as well how much to properly tip. I worked as a delivery boy for six months and as a waiter at a restaurant for two nights. The restaurant waiter job was not for me but as you said I took orders and refilled water. There were employees that cooked the food, busboys that cleaned up afterwards and helpers that delivered the food. We did share in the tips though with higher percentage going to me. The hierarchy of the business I guess. But as I mentioned I didn’t last long.

    I believe that restaurants should charge the amount they need to pay their employees a living wage. I will pay between 10-18%. I was also a bartender and got great tips but there has to be a better system in place in giving tips for buying an $8 beer and giving $2 as tip. I had a convo with a friend about this and I stated that I know a person who works cleaning an entire office building at $10 per hour. He is sweeping, mopping, wiping and throwing out trash. At the end of his shift he’s made $80. I have friends who at the end of their bartending shift of 4 hours has made $300.

  3. I think this article is comparing apples with oranges. You forget that there is a huge difference between working at Appleby’s and Morton’s Steakhouse. Waiting tables can be a challenging undertaking as it requires a good mix of personality, intelligence and patience.

    Quiet simply, some people are just not cut out to wait tables especially in a fast paced environment, like a popular diner. It can be extremely stressful, and taxing on the body from the running up and down, not to mention straining on the limbs from carrying food sometimes on huge trays.

  4. I used to wait tables for a living, so I can tell you that it IS really hard. You have to juggle 7 tables at once, usually with at least one or two being extremely needy as far as attention goes. Not to mention that if the kitchen or even one of the other servers makes a mistake (as you often are responsible for getting each other’s food out), it’s your butt that’s paying for it. This doesn’t take into effect the mental and self-worth drain of your livelihood being controlled by other people. If you get a string of terrible, grumpy people who don’t tip… well, there’s nothing you can do about it. Needless to say that I took a retail job as soon as I could, even if I did make less money. lol

  5. I waited tables for 6 years and its a tough job if your good at it. If u work at a descent with good lunch/dinner rushes things get hetic. You are requried to memorizr the menu and be abke to describe the items, take orders place in orders and deliver food all while refilling 6 differbt cups with.different drinks, rembering to grab ketchup, lemons, napkins or whatever your 6 other table may ask for and get It to all of them asap. Make sure kitchen has your order out right and every ordre gets to the right person while agian rember to grab the few other things they may have asked for on your back to kitchen, finding time to restocking items that your ran out of during the hustle and bustle. If you think you have a small 4 table section with 2-4 people per table each persob asking for atleast (atleast) 5 items (if they r easy) not including their meal while they are there for atleast 45 mins. That 40-80 items (napkins, steaks sauce, extar bread) plus refills and their orders that you have to get to every table within minutes of being asked for them. Yeah the task its self seens simple but just like woth anything when your juggling so much in a short amount of time it can be overwhelming. Alot off ppl wait tables bc its good money and flexible shifts. There are lazy severes out their but for the ones who depend on it when u get home ur feet hurt ur back hurts ur arms hurt u just want to sit down.

  6. I’ve only ever been an expediter at Red Robin. And the answer to your question is: yes and no.

    Being a *good* waiter is hard. That’s not just getting the orders right, it also means checking in regularly with the table to make sure drinks are filled and no one needs anything. It means you’re pretty much constantly in motion. And really good waiters tend to bring the food out themselves for a better impression on customers, and it means they carefully check to be sure your order is complete and correct.

    All this isn’t necessarily more than the cooks do, but they take the brunt of any problems. Waiter gets slammed and takes longer to get to each table? Waiter’s fault. Waiter gets waylaid by a long-winded customer with a ton of questions and takes longer to get to each table? Waiter’s fault. Food takes too long to be done? Waiter’s fault. Meat isn’t cooked exactly to the customer’s liking? Waiter’s fault. Food doesn’t taste how they imagined? Well, you get the gist.

    A good server will not only stay on top of the table status, but will also handle customer dissatisfaction with equanimity and good humor. They will apologize for any mistake, never mentioning that it could be anyone else’s fault.

    Now… a mediocre server is a much different story. It’s not nearly as hard. You still have to deal with pissy customers. You still have to be on your feet a lot. But you’re not at a dead sprint the whole time. You don’t always fall all over yourself to apologize for/correct a problem.

    My husband has chronic dry mouth, so if his glass stays empty for more than 5 minutes, the server won’t be getting a premium tip. Especially if the server just disappears in the back for periods of time, so we can’t flag them down. Because that usually means a smoke break or chatting with other employees. Depending on the severity of the problem, the person will get 15%-20%.

    That said, we pay well for excellent service. There’s a server at one restaurant that we ask for specifically because in all of the times we’ve been there, she has let his drinks go empty maybe twice. And we’ve been there a lot. She’s also very pleasant, checks on her tables constantly, etc. So we tip her 25-30%.


Leave a Comment